Remembering Tim Russert

Tim Russert died Friday at the age of 58. Russert was a lawyer, political aide, and a best-selling author. But far and away his leading role was as political analyst and longtime host of NBC's Meet the Press.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tim Russert died yesterday. He was only 58. He was many things in his life, a lawyer, political aid, a best-selling author. But far and away, his leading role was as a political analyst and the long time host of Meet the Press on NBC. NPR's David Folkenflik has this remembrance.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: It can be honestly said Tim Russert loved his work. Russert wasn't just happy reporting on politics, he was exuberant.

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Political Anaylst, Meet the Press host): I think Bill Clinton is the nominee to the Democratic Party, plain and simple, period. After that major scandal that he survives the minor ones, but he will.

There they are in yellow, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan

…and Friday you said, it's been a rough couple weeks. An understatement. What has the controversy over Reverent Jeremiah Wright done to your campaign?

FOLKENFLIK: Russert was born to a blue-collar family in Buffalo. His dad was a garbage collector, and Russert took that blue-collar sensibility with him when he went to work for two New York political giants, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and former governor Mario Cuomo. New NBC News President Lawrence Grossman hired him as his deputy in 1984. Grossman says there were concerns over Russert's political past, but that colleagues were won over by…

Mr. LAWRENCE GROSSMAN (NBC News President): …Tim's impartiality, by his common sense, by his sensitivity about ethics and the need to be fair and objective.

FOLKENFLIK: Russert quickly jumped to reporting at NBC's Washington Bureau. And in 1991, he took over Meet the Press and revived the quintessential, but frane Sunday political interview show. Veteran Political Journalist Al Hunt, one of his best friends, calls Russert's show the gold standard.

Mr. AL HUNT (Political Journalist): If you really wanted to play in the big leagues, you went on Meet the Press.

FOLKENFLIK: In this clip from August 2006, amid a growing scandal, the notoriously press-shy Vice President Dick Cheney faced questions about the Bush Administration's push for a war in Iraq.

Mr. RUSSERT: And the meeting with Atta did not occur.

Vice President DICK CHENEY (United States): We don't know, nobody has been able to confirm -

Mr. RUSSERT: Then why in the lead-up to the war was there the constant linkage between Iraq and al-Qaeda?

FOLKENFLIK: Al Hunt is now Washington Managing Editor of Bloomberg News. He says he once heard Russert explain his approach to the show.

Mr. HUNT: It was like a great lawyer preparing for the most important argument of his life, or a great professor preparing for a critical lecture. Tim was just so totally committed to seeking truth.

FOLKENFLIK: Russert collapsed at work yesterday and could not be revived. He's survived by his wife, the magazine writer Maureen Orth, his son Luke, and his father, Big Russ, whom he wrote about in his first of two best-selling books. The NBC Bureau Chief's death was utterly unexpected and is proving especially hard for his friends to absorb. The man flat out loved covering politics and this year, Russert was reveling in one of the most compelling presidential races in decades.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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Tim Russert, 'Meet the Press' Host, Dead at 58

Tim Russert in September 2007 i i

Russert smiles during a taping of Meet the Press at the NBC studios Sept. 16, 2007, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press
Tim Russert in September 2007

Russert smiles during a taping of Meet the Press at the NBC studios Sept. 16, 2007, in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press

Tim Russert

Age: 58. Born May 7, 1950, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Work: Moderator, NBC News' Meet the Press, 1991-2008; Washington bureau chief, NBC News, 1988-2008; reporter, NBC News, 1984-88; counselor, New York governor's office in Albany, N.Y., 1983-84; special counsel, U.S. Senate, 1977-82.

Education: Bachelor's degree, John Carroll University, 1972; law degree, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, 1976.

Family: Wife, Maureen Orth; son, Luke.

— From The Associated Press

Tim Russert, one of the nation's most respected political journalists, collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack on Friday at the NBC News bureau in Washington, D.C. He was preparing for this Sunday's installment of NBC's political interview show, Meet the Press, which he had presided over since late 1991. Russert was 58.

Though Russert's death was first revealed in online reports, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw announced the news on the network's sister cable channel MSNBC. A visibly shaken Brokaw called him "one of the premier journalists of our time," adding: "I think I can invoke personal privilege to say this news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice."

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik likened Russert's table at the popular Sunday morning news program to the smoke-filled rooms of previous generations where serious political issues were debated. "If you were not ready for prime time, Tim Russert's questioning would expose that," he says.

Russert did not betray his personal beliefs on the air, but he held powerful figures accountable — senators, presidents, prime ministers alike. But Russert's passion for the political game was infectious, and he used MSNBC to chase the latest stories. "He took advantage of the cable channel to be on the air as much as events warranted," says Folkenflik.

With his wry smile and his trademark white board and felt marker, Russert was known for his incisive calculations of the U.S. electoral system. He marveled at the chaos of election night in 2000 — and helped make sense of it by scribbling on a white board. When Illinois Sen. Barack Obama pulled away from New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries last month, it was Russert's pronouncement that made it clear her viability was coming to an end.

He was also a commanding and comforting presence at NBC's Washington bureau. "People throughout NBC are clearly in deep mourning," Folkenflik says. Russert's colleagues say he routinely championed their work and strengthened it through his own endless list of well-placed contacts.

Russert was a proud son of Buffalo, N.Y., where he was born to Catholic working-class parents. He wrote a book called Big Russ & Me,about his relationship with his father, a garbage collector, that became a New York Times best-seller. An ardent fan of the Buffalo Bills, Russert went on to receive a Jesuit education and ultimately earned a law degree. He later worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

When Russert first joined NBC, he did so as a senior executive. But when he became a journalist, "he applied a lawyer's ability for inquisition to find the truth," says Folkenflik. Russert often cited the advice given him by Lawrence Spivak, one of his predecessors on Meet the Press: Be aggressive, persistent and civil.

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